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Best we forget?

By Greg Cornwell - 26 April 2016 15

Australian War Memorial

As we continue with the anniversary of World War I in the media and particularly, yesterday, at the Australian War Memorial here in Canberra, I am at a loss to explain my feelings.
My thesaurus doesn’t help. Nobody regards the events of 100 years ago as a celebration but we are reluctant to admit the loss of 60,000 dead as the disaster it was either.

So we use noble phrases like sacrifice and patriotism, defence of democracy and For King and Country – all worthy heartfelt sentiments that obscure, and probably will continue to do so, the horrible unacceptable truth.

Military murder.

There is no doubting the bravery of our young men or their discipline but in so many engagements they were senselessly allowed to be butchered, allowed by those who should have known better and by an obscene historical conspiracy of silence have never been properly held to account.

Two examples: The Nek at Gallipoli, where 300 Australians lost their lives charging Turkish machineguns over 27 metres of open ground, and Fromelles, in France. Here 5000 Australian were killed or wounded charging German machine gun positions over open ground up to 400 metres across.

Which senior officers, the ‘Chateau generals’ as they were derisively known, planned and supported such murder? Why were they not court martialled or cashiered for such dereliction of duty to their men?
Yes, I know attitudes were different then and war was being fought as is usually the case as it had been in former conflicts: wild cavalry charges and the like without regard for improved more deadly weapons. Ignorance was no excuse here however, machine guns had been in use previously with devastating effect.
Security and morale were important, nevertheless such pointless slaughter was known – you cannot take out so many troops without their absence being noted and casualty figures were published back home – yet from the respective commanders above (Hamilton and Haig) nothing was done to address the old tactics which resulted in the bloodbath. Why?

And why did others in senior positions not do something? Were they all committed to the human meat grinder? And what of the politicians? Many UK MPs visited the front line. Was nobody prepared to question the cannon fodder approach consistently employed over four years?

Fortunately subsequent wars did not see the massacres on this scale on our side, although there continued to be inevitable but isolated costly mistakes involving considerable casualties.

Nevertheless a more considered approach to war should not obscure the truth of what really happened in 1914-18 and no amount of jingoism should be allowed to cloud our knowledge of the tragedy and its on-the-ground causes which took place upon those battlefields.

There needs even now to be some acknowledgement of the mistakes made and the consequences. Too often the reason for what occurred is brushed out and the perpetrators overlooked while we concentrate upon mourning the victims.

Lest we Forget for our dead is appropriate, Best we Forget for those many responsible is not.

What’s Your opinion?


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15 Responses to
Best we forget?
HenryBG 2:15 pm 02 May 16

dungfungus said :

rosscoact said :

Mysteryman said :

Mysteryman said :

Greg, you call it military murder. I’ve always called it legalised murder. And I can’t understand why we have to celebrate it each year.

Do you actually think people are celebrating it? Have you ever been to a dawn service? It’s not a celebration. It’s a memorial to those who died. If you’re seeing the day as a celebration, then you might be the one who needs a change of perspective.

Nevertheless a more considered approach to war should not obscure the truth of what really happened in 1914-18 and no amount of jingoism should be allowed to cloud our knowledge of the tragedy and its on-the-ground causes which took place upon those battlefields.

Who’s hiding the truth? The landing at Gallipoli was botched and it’s common knowledge. We all know that many young men were sent to their deaths because of poor decision-making. There’s no conspiracy to hide what happened.

No, the Gallipoli landing wasn’t botched, it was successfully achieved without casualties before dawn in the right place. It was just that the terrain the ANZACs had to traverse to their objective was exceptionally difficult, there were hesitations after initial advances and there were sufficient Turkish defenders already there, bolstered by reinforcements, to make progress, even after the first day, all but impossible. In fact, I understand General Bridges (I think) recommended evacuation then and there. How things could have been different…

It was botched. They landed in the wrong area.

As part of the attempt to seize the Gallipoli Peninsula in order to suppress the Turkish defences guarding the Dardanelles, military landings were made at Cape Helles at the southern tip of the peninsula (the main landing) and on the west coast near Ari Burnu. At this secondary objective two Divisions of the ANZAC Corps landed over 1 kilometre north of their planned objective (Gaba Tepe) and in the darkness and confusion of the early morning faced rugged and difficult country. Units mixed up on their arrival rushed inland and became separated from the main force, which came under growing fire from the Turkish defenders.

Taken from: https://www.awm.gov.au/military-event/E70/

A bit more context:
Turkish casualties vastly outnumbered British, French and Australian casualties.
The Turkish forces deployed against the ANZACs were roughly twice the size, per capita of the Allied force opposing them, as against the other two nations.
The ANZAC withdrawal operation is counted among the most precise and successful such operations in military history.
The (dismounted) Aussie Light Horse who fought at Gallipoli later fought some of the same Turks in Egypt, Palestine and Syria. They held each other in high regard and treated each other with as much consideration as they were allowed, given they were tasked with killing each other.
The ANZAC participation in these two campaigns is credited as one of the most significant causes of the end of the Ottoman empire.
In Korea, ANZACs and Turks served alongside and again held each other in high regard. The Turks, despite their communications problems, tend to be regarded as the most efficient and feared armed force on the UN side during Korea.

Mysteryman 3:18 pm 29 Apr 16

rosscoact said :

Mysteryman said :

Mysteryman said :

Greg, you call it military murder. I’ve always called it legalised murder. And I can’t understand why we have to celebrate it each year.

Do you actually think people are celebrating it? Have you ever been to a dawn service? It’s not a celebration. It’s a memorial to those who died. If you’re seeing the day as a celebration, then you might be the one who needs a change of perspective.

Nevertheless a more considered approach to war should not obscure the truth of what really happened in 1914-18 and no amount of jingoism should be allowed to cloud our knowledge of the tragedy and its on-the-ground causes which took place upon those battlefields.

Who’s hiding the truth? The landing at Gallipoli was botched and it’s common knowledge. We all know that many young men were sent to their deaths because of poor decision-making. There’s no conspiracy to hide what happened.

No, the Gallipoli landing wasn’t botched, it was successfully achieved without casualties before dawn in the right place. It was just that the terrain the ANZACs had to traverse to their objective was exceptionally difficult, there were hesitations after initial advances and there were sufficient Turkish defenders already there, bolstered by reinforcements, to make progress, even after the first day, all but impossible. In fact, I understand General Bridges (I think) recommended evacuation then and there. How things could have been different…

It was botched. They landed in the wrong area.

As part of the attempt to seize the Gallipoli Peninsula in order to suppress the Turkish defences guarding the Dardanelles, military landings were made at Cape Helles at the southern tip of the peninsula (the main landing) and on the west coast near Ari Burnu. At this secondary objective two Divisions of the ANZAC Corps landed over 1 kilometre north of their planned objective (Gaba Tepe) and in the darkness and confusion of the early morning faced rugged and difficult country. Units mixed up on their arrival rushed inland and became separated from the main force, which came under growing fire from the Turkish defenders.

Taken from: https://www.awm.gov.au/military-event/E70/

Crazed_Loner 12:31 am 29 Apr 16

Mysteryman said :

Mysteryman said :

Greg, you call it military murder. I’ve always called it legalised murder. And I can’t understand why we have to celebrate it each year.

Do you actually think people are celebrating it? Have you ever been to a dawn service? It’s not a celebration. It’s a memorial to those who died. If you’re seeing the day as a celebration, then you might be the one who needs a change of perspective.

Nevertheless a more considered approach to war should not obscure the truth of what really happened in 1914-18 and no amount of jingoism should be allowed to cloud our knowledge of the tragedy and its on-the-ground causes which took place upon those battlefields.

Who’s hiding the truth? The landing at Gallipoli was botched and it’s common knowledge. We all know that many young men were sent to their deaths because of poor decision-making. There’s no conspiracy to hide what happened.

No, the Gallipoli landing wasn’t botched, it was successfully achieved without casualties before dawn in the right place. It was just that the terrain the ANZACs had to traverse to their objective was exceptionally difficult, there were hesitations after initial advances and there were sufficient Turkish defenders already there, bolstered by reinforcements, to make progress, even after the first day, all but impossible. In fact, I understand General Bridges (I think) recommended evacuation then and there. How things could have been different…

gazket 9:08 pm 28 Apr 16

ANZAC Day is a day of remembrance and respect regardless of who, what or why .

In 1914 war was fought very differently than today. If you think ANZAC day is a celebration you haven’t been to a ANZAC day dawn service .

The current white washing of Australian history may have some effect on why you and others seem to be confused . Australia day is a celebration. ANZAC day is commemoration .

John Moulis 4:58 pm 28 Apr 16

Thank you for the intelligent and reasoned responses to my previous post. I knew that by sticking my neck out and criticising the sacred cow of Anzac Day I’d get some negativity and I’ve been prepared for that. I’ve been anti-war and anti “Anzackery” after I grew up with the conscription lottery hanging over my elder brother. When he turned 18 in 1972 he missed out on having his birthdate drawn by just one day. I’ll never forgive the politicians involved for the years of stress caused by the threat of conscription to an illegal and undeclared war.

We’ve had Anzac Day in the past, and prior to the 1990 75th anniversary it was dying out. Listen to the last verse of Eric Bogle’s And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda to gain an insight into the attitudes towards the day and the returned servicemen in the 1970s and ’80s. In 1990 the hype about Anzac Day began, and much to my dismay has grown over the years.

The attitudes of the Now Generation and its predecessors have been moulded by a string of almost stage-managed wars (Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan) where journalists have either been embedded with troops, or else the various Defence propaganda units have released sanitised images to the media. I’ll never forget the Kuwait war where instead of the gritty and uncensored coverage we received during the Vietnam War we saw US General Schwarzkopf standing in front of a map with a pointer at press conferences and giving his version of what had happened during the day.

DavidStephens 2:36 pm 28 Apr 16

Nice piece, Greg, and interesting comments. People might like to peruse honesthistory.net.au which has been going now for 2 1/2 years to resist ‘Anzackery’, the over the top jingoistic version of Anzac, and to try to maintain a sense of balance in the way we view our history. Of the comments below, I would only say only fools celebrate war but relentless commemoration can have the same effect. It normalises war, particularly in the minds of children.

Spiral 11:33 pm 27 Apr 16

Mysteryman said :

+1. The views expressed in post #5 by ms62 about losing a generation of young men to “violence” is a weird interpretation of what ANZAC day actually stands for.

And ms62 appears to have very little understanding of tactics used in WW, especially the use of artillery.

rommeldog56 6:58 pm 27 Apr 16

dungfungus said :

I think you are taking a very different meaning from the events of ANZAC Day, and the dawn service in particular, than most people would. I don’t know what you were listening to but there were no “macho tales” being told. We remember the ANZACs for their sacrifice, bravery (and yes, you better believe they were brave), friendship, and endurance, among other traits. Anyone who listened to the letters being read before the service would understand this. I’m glad that the majority of Australian’s see ANZAC Day for what it really is – a day to remember people who died in service of their country.

How you’ve arrived at your position on the issue, I don’t know. But it sounds like you’ve taken a very different message from the event than the one they intended you to hear.

+1. The views expressed in post #5 by ms62 about losing a generation of young men to “violence” is a weird interpretation of what ANZAC day actually stands for. Plus the interpretation by John Moulis in post #1 of ANZAC day being a “celebration” is just plain wrong.

And voters are supposed to “interpret” what political parties claim and vote accordingly. Hmmmmm…..

PerkyTTs 2:06 pm 27 Apr 16

Interesting perspective and a good point. We must ensure a war on this scale never happens again.

Mysteryman 11:02 am 27 Apr 16

dungfungus said :

Mysteryman said :

Mysteryman said :

Greg, you call it military murder. I’ve always called it legalised murder. And I can’t understand why we have to celebrate it each year.

Do you actually think people are celebrating it? Have you ever been to a dawn service? It’s not a celebration. It’s a memorial to those who died. If you’re seeing the day as a celebration, then you might be the one who needs a change of perspective.

Take this year’s dawn service for instance however, and the OP has a point. Whilst there was quite an emphasis on sacrifice, mateship, courage and bravery there was all but two lines said about fear by Brendan Nelson. Why can’t the lessons of ANZAC be about a need to end ‘senseless violence’ instead of need to show endless bravery in the face of overwhelming stupidity.

Quite frankly, ANZAC Day perpetuates lies that these young men ran courageously into the fire, when if you look at the actual rates (particularly on the Somme) of killed versus artillery used you can see that these men were not interested in killing the opposition, nor were they interested in bravado. It’s only in our recounting of their story (and perhaps an over reliance on the word of Charles Bean) that we get this odd macho tale.

Tell the ANZAC Story how it really was, and how we lost a generation of young men to violence, a corollary that needs more readily to be told in today’s society than any message about bravery or courage

I think you are taking a very different meaning from the events of ANZAC Day, and the dawn service in particular, than most people would. I don’t know what you were listening to but there were no “macho tales” being told. We remember the ANZACs for their sacrifice, bravery (and yes, you better believe they were brave), friendship, and endurance, among other traits. Anyone who listened to the letters being read before the service would understand this. I’m glad that the majority of Australian’s see ANZAC Day for what it really is – a day to remember people who died in service of their country.

How you’ve arrived at your position on the issue, I don’t know. But it sounds like you’ve taken a very different message from the event than the one they intended you to hear.

ms62 8:33 pm 26 Apr 16

Mysteryman said :

Mysteryman said :

Greg, you call it military murder. I’ve always called it legalised murder. And I can’t understand why we have to celebrate it each year.

Do you actually think people are celebrating it? Have you ever been to a dawn service? It’s not a celebration. It’s a memorial to those who died. If you’re seeing the day as a celebration, then you might be the one who needs a change of perspective.

Take this year’s dawn service for instance however, and the OP has a point. Whilst there was quite an emphasis on sacrifice, mateship, courage and bravery there was all but two lines said about fear by Brendan Nelson. Why can’t the lessons of ANZAC be about a need to end ‘senseless violence’ instead of need to show endless bravery in the face of overwhelming stupidity.

Quite frankly, ANZAC Day perpetuates lies that these young men ran courageously into the fire, when if you look at the actual rates (particularly on the Somme) of killed versus artillery used you can see that these men were not interested in killing the opposition, nor were they interested in bravado. It’s only in our recounting of their story (and perhaps an over reliance on the word of Charles Bean) that we get this odd macho tale.

Tell the ANZAC Story how it really was, and how we lost a generation of young men to violence, a corollary that needs more readily to be told in today’s society than any message about bravery or courage

HenryBG 5:06 pm 26 Apr 16

Mysteryman said :

Greg, you call it military murder. I’ve always called it legalised murder. And I can’t understand why we have to celebrate it each year.

John, we don’t “celebrate” it. We remember it. At a time when the Australian population was only about 3,000,000, over 300,000 experienced horrendous things on the battlefields, with 1 in 5 of those killed, and twice that many coming back with physical wounds, and uncounted more suffering from non-physical injuries.
This song is what we remember:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZqN1glz4JY
And for me personally, I remember my great-grandfather who campaigned fiercely against conscription and against Australians being involved in the European slaughter.

Then there is WW2.

I had family members who managed to escape Singapore, and family members who didn’t.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana.

Mysteryman 4:50 pm 26 Apr 16

Mysteryman said :

Greg, you call it military murder. I’ve always called it legalised murder. And I can’t understand why we have to celebrate it each year.

Do you actually think people are celebrating it? Have you ever been to a dawn service? It’s not a celebration. It’s a memorial to those who died. If you’re seeing the day as a celebration, then you might be the one who needs a change of perspective.

Nevertheless a more considered approach to war should not obscure the truth of what really happened in 1914-18 and no amount of jingoism should be allowed to cloud our knowledge of the tragedy and its on-the-ground causes which took place upon those battlefields.

Who’s hiding the truth? The landing at Gallipoli was botched and it’s common knowledge. We all know that many young men were sent to their deaths because of poor decision-making. There’s no conspiracy to hide what happened.

madelini 4:18 pm 26 Apr 16

Mysteryman said :

Greg, you call it military murder. I’ve always called it legalised murder. And I can’t understand why we have to celebrate it each year.

In theory, it should be a commemoration, not a celebration. Whether or not that is observed is up for debate, but it’s an important distinction.

John Moulis 11:36 am 26 Apr 16

Greg, you call it military murder. I’ve always called it legalised murder. And I can’t understand why we have to celebrate it each year.

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